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Law Schools Would Have to Disclose Scholarship Retention Rates Online Under ABA Section Proposal

Posted Aug 30, 2011 8:10 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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Law schools would have to publish on their websites the percentage of students whose scholarships are renewed under a proposal being considered by the ABA section overseeing accreditation.

The ABA Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar disclosed it is considering the idea in a second response to U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who has posed two sets of questions to the ABA about its oversight of law schools, according to an ABA press release.

ABA President Wm. T. (Bill) Robinson III introduces the response (PDF) with a letter assuring Grassley that the association remains committed to helping law grads find rewarding legal careers.

The Section of Legal Education and Admissions to the Bar operates independently of the ABA in accrediting law schools for the U.S. Department of Education. Its response says the section does not have any requirements for the renewal of law school scholarships, but it is moving to collect additional data through changes in annual law school questionnaires. The section is also considering a proposal to require schools to publish on their websites specific data about scholarship retention rates.

“This information will permit entering students offered scholarships to fully understand both the requirements for renewal and the likelihood they will meet those requirements,” the section response says.

A New York Times article published in May said that many law students are unaware of “the perils of the merit scholarship game.” Students may think it will be easy to meet grade requirements to retain the scholarships, when in reality many lose the money because of grading curves.

In a response to Grassley’s first set of questions in July, then-ABA President Stephen N. Zack said the association shares the senator's concerns about the transparency of law school data.

Since then the section has approved changes to its annual law school questionnaire to include more employment and placement information about graduates. Under the changes, law schools will be required to report how many graduates are employed in jobs requiring a law degree, how many are in full-time or part-time jobs, how many have short- or long-term jobs, and how many hold jobs funded by their law schools. The new response refers to the questionnaire changes.

The new response also addresses Grassley's concerns that taxpayers are on the hook when law students default on their loans. The section notes that default rates for law school grads are significantly lower than those for undergraduates. The section adds that it is working to require law schools to demonstrate they are taking satisfactory steps to help students find jobs and to promote student loan payment when schools’ placement rates fall below a specified level.

The response also notes that current ABA accreditation standards require law schools to “take reasonable steps to minimize student loan defaults, including provision of debt counseling at the inception of a student’s loan obligations and prior to graduation.”

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